On 3 October, the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced the 64 teams from 21 states and Puerto Rico that will take part in the 2020 NASA Student Launch competition to design, build, test and fly a payload and high-powered amateur rocket.
The rockets are required to reach an altitude of between 4,000 and 5,500 feet, and all teams must meet multiple documentation and presentation milestones with NASA rocketry experts as they develop their rocket.
New to the competition is the college division’s payload challenge. In the past, the teams were given payload options to develop, such as a rover or unmanned aerial vehicle. In 2020, the teams must collect a specific amount of simulated lunar ice from the launch field, before navigating to a specified distance.
The payload task resembles aspects of mission design and planning faced by NASA and industry engineers when exploring planetary bodies, such as the Moon, which has water ice at its south pole.
Teams in the middle/high school division can choose to complete in the college division payload challenge or they can develop a scientific or engineering payload of their own design. As introduced in the 2019 competition, teams will continue to “call their shot” and predict their rocket’s altitude.
When teams submit their preliminary design review package to NASA in November this year, one of the key milestones in the competition year, they will submit their predictions and target altitudes for launch day, to be held in Huntsville, Alabama in April 2020.
Teams are also evaluated and given points and awards in nearly a dozen other categories including safety, vehicle design, social media presence and STEM engagement. The STEM award “encourages and recognizes teams for sharing their knowledge and experiences with the next generation of engineers, scientists and explorers”.
Marshall’s Office of STEM Engagement manages Student Launch to “stimulate innovation and advance NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations mission through collaboration with educational institutions and students”.
NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement looks to further the agency’s goal of encouraging students to pursue degrees and careers in the STEM fields through multiple challenges, including the Student Launch competition.
The Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate and the Office of STEM Engagement, along with Northrop Grumman and the Huntsville chapter of the National Space Club, provide funding and leadership for the initiative.
Entering its third decade of competition, Student Launch aims to provide a realistic experience for middle school, high school and college students to follow the engineering design process NASA and industry engineers use when developing and operating new hardware.